Introduction: What conservation problem or question does your study address?Intense policy debates have been witnessed about whether conservation is done best through the expansion of protected area network and relocation of communities living inside protected parks, or through large scale handover of forests to local communities. This research addresses this debate by integrating landscape ecology and institutional approaches to study the role of institutions both within and outside protected forest, and its socio-ecological impacts.
Methods: What were the main research methods you used?The study area is dry deciduous forests of Vidarbha in Maharashtra with high biodiversity and threatened forest habitat. Landsat satellite images of 30m resolution were used to identify trajectories of forest change, which includes regrowth, stable and degraded forest patches. For this, past 4 decades Landsat images from 1977 to 2011 were used for supervised classification. 20 random villages were selected in each forest change classes and semi-structured focus group discussion was conducted with local community, dependent on the forest for their livelihood. We looked at the different institutional approaches to forest management – such as Community Forests Management (CFM), Joint Forest Management (JFM), Reserve Forest (RF), Protected Forest (PF), to understand how local institutions, rules in use, and people’s participation in forest management have impacted the intensity of forest use, forest change and fragmentation.
Results: What are your most important results?Forest fragmentation increased between 1977 and 1989/90, followed by a slight recovery in 1999 and 2011. There is an overlap between different institutions such as JFM, RF, PF and FDCM in randomly selected villages. We found different opinions of local communities regarding the change in forest cover. We also observed that forest departments have a dominant role in forest cover change, as they influence the local community decisions.
Discussion: What are your important discussion points and what is the relevance of your results to conservation (if any)?Comparative analysis between different institutions help in understanding how different levels of participation (strict protected area rules Vs community participation) impact people, institutions and forest conservation. This research provides critical policy relevant inputs to an increasingly urgent problem of how to balance the needs of local communities with the requirements of conservation in tightly coupled social-ecological dry tropical forest.